One of the principles our legal system was founded upon was that if an individual wants the court's help, that individual should seek it in a timely manner. To make sure that people do seek the court's help in a timely manner, laws called statutes of limitation have been enacted. They limit the amount of time in which an individual may file a lawsuit.
In many states, personal injury lawsuits have a two-year statute of limitations. That means that if you were injured in a car accident on 01/01/2005, you would have to sue on or before 01/01/2007. If you didn't sue by that date, you wouldn't be able to sue. Or, as lawyers say, your suit would be barred by the statute of limitations.
In the case of a car accident, it's easy to determine when a person was injured - the date of the accident. But sometimes, like medical malpractice cases, a plaintiff doesn't know they were injured until a later date. A good example would be if a doctor left a surgical instrument inside a patient, and the patient didn't discover it until months or years later. In cases like that, the statute of limitations is "tolled" by something called "the discovery rule." In our fictional case, the statute of limitations would most likely begin to run on the date that the patient discovered the doctor left a surgical instrument inside of them. But even then, there are limits - some states won't let you sue for malpractice after 3 years from the date of the malpractice, no matter when you found the surgical instrument.
Don't rely upon anything on the Internet - including this site - in determining when your own statute of limitations is up. Contact a lawyer.
Statutes of limitations encourage people to sue when memories are fresh and prevent doctors from worrying about being sued for procedures they may have performed 10 years ago.
Some people, such as those who are misdiagnosed, may not learn of malpractice until it's too late for them to sue. Crooked defendants may try and negotiate with a plaintiff until the statute of limitations has expired and the plaintiff can no longer sue. When a suit is barred by the statute of limitations, some sarcastic lawyers say the plaintiff is "SOL," Statute Of Limitations'ed.
Statutes of limitations from state to state range from 1 to 10 years. Consumer advocates argue that 1 year is too short, while tort reformers feel that the shorter a statute of limitations is, the better.
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